Today’s post delves into an important topic with regards to our theme of Empowerment – standing up for yourself. Growing up we receive mixed messages about what it means to stand up for ourselves, when to do it, and how to go about it. Sometimes we’re told to turn the other cheek, ignore things that bother us, and avoid situations where we feel uncomfortable. Other times we’re expected to raise our hands, speak up, and protect ourselves and others. It can be a confusing lesson to learn but one that, over time, becomes essential to living well. The balance between advocating for ourselves and speaking up can be difficult to manage especially when so many feelings (anger, frustration, hurt, and more) come right along with it. Health Activists act as an excellent example for not only confronting tough issues like misconceptions and stigma personally but also offer guidance to others who are going through the same thing. Check out Tayla’s great post for more on this. –Amanda
Standing Up for Yourself Against Misconceptions and Stigma
by Tayla Holman
As part of this month’s discussion about empowerment, one of the things we want to talk about is how to stand up for yourself against stigma and misconceptions. Keep in mind, however, that standing up for yourself does not mean that you have to knock others down. You can be assertive without being hurtful.
Before we can talk about how to stand up against stigma, though, we have to define it. There are two definitions that we can use:
1) A mark of disgrace or infamy.
2) A mental or physical mark that is characteristic of a defect or disease.
For “visible” illnesses or conditions, like psoriasis, a chronic autoimmune disease that appears on the skin, for example – the related stigma often satisfies both of these definitions. People with psoriasis may get the blotches or lesions in highly visible places like their hands, necks, or faces. As a result, they are often treated differently, “like lepers” as some in the community have attested, by people who do not understand the disease. This is a familiar story for anyone who has dealt with a misunderstood health condition. Being treated differently is something many of us, regardless of health condition, go through. No matter the definition, there are ways to confront the stigma. Here are some tips that may be helpful to share with your community.
Educate others. – With a visible condition like psoriasis or even invisible illnesses that sometimes entail physical manifestations, encountering public stigma may be inevitable, especially if it covers a large or visible area of your body or affects your stature. If someone makes a comment, or asks you about your condition, explain to them that it is not contagious. Tell them that you are receiving treatment, and that they will not “catch” psoriasis from being around you. Remember that people who judge may simply be afraid or nervous. People are afraid of what they don’t understand, so helping them to understand better will help assuage some of their fears and correct prejudice or misconceptions. As with most things: practice makes perfect. The more you put yourself out there and educate others, the more comfortable you will be and the better you will feel about doing it.
Educate yourself. – Just as important as educating others is educating yourself. Understanding your symptoms, as well as what works and what doesn’t work, helps you empower yourself. Becoming an expert on the condition, especially as it relates to you, puts you in a better position to stand up for yourself when you are approached with misconceptions.
Don’t keep it a secret. – First, reach out to family and close friends. Look for organizations or support groups. If you need to, find a therapist that has worked with other people with your disease or condition. If you don’t already, you may want to blog about your experiences. Think of how many other people are probably struggling with the same issues, and how your words and advice could help them. Reach out to others who write about it, too. Rely on those you connect with online – they will understand elements of your condition that your friends and family may not relate to. Work together to raise awareness.
Change your attitude. – This is probably the hardest thing to do when it comes to coping with stigma, but it is just as important as the other tips. Since stress can make chronic conditions worse, having a positive attitude can help keep things under control. When it comes to being confronted by others, do not get angry. Offer an explanation if you can. If you can’t, simply walk away. Again, the more you practice being positive and finding solace in your strengths – the more effective it will be. And, when you don’t feel like being positive – reach out to someone who you can vent with or talk to. Take the time to feel your feelings, then work through them as best you can. Taking your mind off of negative things with things and people you love is always a good bet.
These are just a few tips that I’ve found from my research – I’m interested in hearing what you’ve tried in your community. What other tips do you have for standing up against misconceptions and stigmas? How do you empower your community to stand up for themselves?